The History of Florence—Book V

Chapter IV

Peace being restored between the Lucchese and Florentines, and the duke and the count having become friends, hopes were entertained that the arms of Italy would be laid aside, although those in the Kingdom of Naples, between René of Anjou and Alfonso of Arragon, could find repose only by the ruin of one party or the other. And though the Pope was dissatisfied with the loss of so large a portion of his territories, and the ambition of the duke and the Venetians was obvious, still it was thought that the pontiff, from necessity, and the others from weariness, would be advocates of peace. However, a different state of feeling prevailed, for neither the duke nor the Venetians were satisfied with their condition; so that hostilities were resumed, and Lombardy and Tuscany were again harassed by the horrors of war. The proud mind of the duke could not endure that the Venetians should possess Bergamo and Brescia, and he was still further annoyed by hearing that they were constantly in arms and in the daily practice of annoying some portion of his territories. He thought, however, that he should not only be able to restrain them, but to recover the places he had lost, if the Pope, the Florentines, and the count could be induced to forego the Venetian alliance. He therefore resolved to take Romagna from the pontiff, imagining that his holiness could not injure him, and that the Florentines, finding the conflagration so near, either for their own sake would refrain from interference, or, if they did not, could not conveniently attack him. The duke was also aware of the resentment of the Florentines against the Venetians, on account of the affair of Lucca, and he therefore judged they would be the less eager to take arms against him on their behalf. With regard to the Count Francesco, he trusted that their new friendship and the hope of his alliance would keep him quiet. To give as little color as possible for complaint, and to lull suspicion, particularly, because, in consequence of his treaty with the count, the latter could not attack Romagna, he ordered Niccolo Piccinino, as if instigated by his own ambition to do so.

When the agreement between the duke and the count was concluded, Niccolo was in Romagna, and, in pursuance of his instructions from the duke, affected to be highly incensed, that a connection had been established between him and the count, his inveterate enemy. He therefore withdrew himself and his forces to Camurata, a place between Furli and Ravenna, which he fortified, as if designing to remain there some time, or till a new enterprise should present itself. The report of his resentment being diffused, Niccolo gave the Pope to understand how much the duke was under obligation to him, and how ungrateful he proved; and he was persuaded, that, possessing nearly all the arms of Italy, under the two principal generals, he could render himself sole ruler; but if his holiness pleased, of the two principal generals whom he fancied he possessed, one would become his enemy, and the other be rendered useless; for, if money were provided him, and he were kept in pay, he would attack the territories held of the Church by the count, who being compelled to look to his own interests, could not subserve the ambition of Filippo. The Pope giving entire credence to this representation, on account of its apparent reasonableness, sent Niccolo 5,000 ducats, and loaded him with promises of states for himself and his children. And though many informed him of the deception, he could not give credit to them, nor would he endure the conversation of any who seemed to doubt the integrity of Niccolo's professions.

The city of Ravenna was held for the Church by Ostasio da Polenta. Niccolo finding further delay would be detrimental, since his son Francesco had, to the Pope's great dishonor, pillaged Spoleto, determined to attack Ravenna, either because he judged the enterprise easy, or because he had a secret understanding with Ostasio, for, in a few days after the attack, the place capitulated. He then took Bologna, Imola, and Furli; and (what is worthy of remark) of twenty fortresses held in that country for the Pope, not one escaped falling into his hands. Not satisfied with these injuries inflicted on the pontiff, he resolved to banter him by his words as well as ridicule him by his deeds, and wrote that he had only done as his holiness deserved, for having unblushingly attempted to divide two such attached friends as the duke and himself, and for having dispersed over Italy letters intimating that he had quitted the duke to take part with the Venetians. Having taken possession of Romagna, Niccolo left it under the charge of his son, Francesco, and, with the greater part of his troops, went into Lormbardy, where, joining the remainder of the duke's forces, he attacked the country about Brescia, and, having soon completely conquered it, besieged the city itself.

The duke, who desired the Venetians to be left defenceless, excused himself to the Pope, the Florentines, and the count, saying that, if the doings of Niccolo were contrary to the terms of the treaty, they were equally contrary to his wishes, and by secret messengers, assured them that when an occasion presented itself, he would give them a convincing proof that they had been performed in disobedience to his instructions. Neither the count nor the Florentines believed him, but thought, with reason, that these enterprises had been carried on to keep them at bay, till he had subdued the Venetians, who, being full of pride, and thinking themselves able alone to resist the duke, had not deigned to ask for any assistance, but carried on the war under their captain, Gattamelata.

Count Francesco would have wished, with the consent of the Florentines, to go to the assistance of King René, if the events of Romagna and Lombardy had not hindered him; and the Florentines would willingly have consented, from their ancient friendship to the French dynasty, but the duke was entirely in favor of Alfonso. Each being engaged in wars near home, refrained from distant undertakings. The Florentines, finding Romagna occupied with the duke's forces, and the Venetians defeated, as if foreseeing their own ruin in that of others, entreated the count to come into Tuscany, where they might consider what should be done to resist Filippo's power, which was now greater than it had ever before been; assuring them that, if his insolence were not in some way curbed, all the powers of Italy would soon have to submit to him. The count felt the force of the fears entertained by the Florentines, but his desire to secure the duke's alliance kept him in suspense; and the duke, aware of this desire, gave him the greatest assurance that his hopes would be realized as shortly as possible, if he abstained from hostilities against him. As the lady was now of marriageable age, the duke had frequently made all suitable preparations for the celebration of the ceremony, but on one pretext or another they had always been wholly set aside. He now, to give the count greater confidence, added deeds to his words, and sent him 30,000 florins, which, by the terms of the marriage contract, he had engaged to pay.

Still the war in Lombardy proceeded with greater vehemence than ever; the Venetians constantly suffered fresh losses of territory, and the fleets they equipped upon the rivers were taken by the duke's forces; the country around Verona and Brescia was entirely occupied, and the two cities themselves so pressed that their speedy fall was generally anticipated. The Marquis of Mantua, who for many years had led the forces of their republic, quite unexpectedly resigned his command, and went over to the duke's service. Thus the course which pride prevented them from adopting at the commencement of the war, fear compelled them to take during its progress; for knowing there was no help for them but in the friendship of the Florentines and the count, they began to make overtures to obtain it, though with shame and apprehension; for they were afraid of receiving a reply similar to that which they had given the Florentines, when the latter applied for assistance in the enterprise against Lucca and the count's affairs.

However, they found the Florentines more easily induced to render aid than they expected, or their conduct deserved; so much more were the former swayed by hatred of their ancient enemy, than by resentment of the ingratitude of their old and habitual friends. Having foreseen the necessity into which the Venetians must come, they had informed the count that their ruin must involve his own; that he was deceived if he thought the duke, while fortunate, would esteem him more than if he were in adversity; that the duke was induced to promise him his daughter by the fear he entertained of him; that what necessity occasions to be promised, it also causes to be performed; and it was therefore desirable to keep the duke in that necessity, which could not be done without supporting the power of the Venetians. Therefore he might perceive, that if the Venetians were compelled to abandon their inland territories, he would not only lose the advantages derivable from them, but also those to be obtained from such as feared them; and that if he considered well the powers of Italy, he would see that some were poor, and others hostile; that the Florentines alone were not, as he had often said, sufficient for his support, so that on every account it was best to keep the Venetians powerful by land. These arguments, conjoined with the hatred which the count had conceived against Filippo, by supposing himself duped with regard to the promised alliance, induced him to consent to a new treaty; but still he would not consent to cross the Po. The agreement was concluded in February, 1438; the Venetians agreeing to pay two-thirds of the expense of the war, the Florentines one-third, and each engaging to defend the States which the count possessed in La Marca. Nor were these the only forces of the league, for the Lord of Faenza, the sons of Pandolfo Malatesta da Rimino and Pietro Giampagolo Orsini also joined them. They endeavored, by very liberal offers, to gain over the Marquis of Mantua, but could not prevail against the friendship and stipend of the duke; and the Lord of Faenza, after having entered into a compact with the league, being tempted by more advantageous terms, went over to him. This made them despair of being able to effect an early settlement of the troubles of Romagna.

The affairs of Lombardy were in this condition: Brescia was so closely besieged by the duke's forces that constant apprehensions were entertained of her being compelled by famine to a surrender; while Verona was so pressed that a similar fate was expected to await her, and, if one of these cities were lost, all the other preparations for the war might be considered useless, and the expenses already incurred as completely wasted. For this there was no remedy, but to send the count into Lombardy; and to this measure three obstacles presented themselves. The first was, to induce him to cross the Po, and prosecute the war in whatever locality might be found most advisable; the second, that, the count being at a distance, the Florentines would be left almost at the mercy of the duke, who, issuing from any of his fortresses, might with part of his troops keep the count at bay, and with the rest introduce into Tuscany the Florentine exiles, whom the existing government greatly dreaded; the third was, to determine what route the count should take to arrive safely in the Paduan territory, and join the Venetian forces. Of these three difficulties, the second, which particularly regarded the Florentines, was the most serious; but, knowing the necessity of the case, and wearied out by the Venetians, who with unceasing importunity demanded the count, intimating that without him they should abandon all hope, they resolved to relieve their allies rather than listen to the suggestions of their own fears. There still remained the question about the route to be taken, for the safety of which they determined the Venetians should provide; and as they had sent Neri Capponi to treat with the count, and induce him to cross the Po, they determined that the same person should also proceed to Venice, in order to make the benefit the more acceptable to the Signory, and see that all possible security were given to the passage of the forces.

Neri embarked at Cesena and went to Venice; nor was any prince ever received with so much honor as he was; for upon his arrival, and the matters which his intervention was to decide and determine, the safety of the republic seemed to depend. Being introduced to the Senate, and in presence of the Doge, he said:

"The Signory of Florence, Most Serene Prince, has always perceived in the duke's greatness the source of ruin both to this republic and our own, and that the safety of both States depends upon their separate strength and mutual confidence. If such had been the opinion of this illustrious Signory, we should ourselves have been in better condition, and your republic would have been free from the dangers that now threaten it. But as at the proper crisis you withheld from us confidence and aid, we could not come to the relief of your distress, nor could you, being conscious of this, freely ask us; for neither in your prosperity nor adversity have you clearly perceived our motives. You have not observed that those whose deeds have once incurred our hatred, can never [yet] become entitled to our regard; nor can those who have once merited our affection ever after absolutely cancel their claim. Our attachment to your Most Serene Signory is well known to you all, for you have often seen Lombardy filled with your forces and our money for your assistance. Our hereditary enmity to Filippo and his house is universally known, and it is impossible that love or hatred, strengthened by the growth of years, can be eradicated from our minds by any recent act either of kindness or neglect. We have always thought, and are still of the same opinion, that we might now remain neutral, greatly to the duke's satisfaction, and with little hazard to ourselves; for if by your ruin he were to become Lord of Lombardy, we should still have sufficient influence in Italy to free us from any apprehension on our own account; for every increase of power and territory augments that animosity and envy, from which arise wars and the dismemberment of states. We are also aware what heavy expenses and imminent perils we should avoid, by declining to involve ourselves in these disputes; and how easily the field of battle may be transferred from Lombardy to Tuscany, by our interference in your behalf.

"Yet all these apprehensions are at once overborne by our ancient affection for the senate and people of Venice, and we have resolved to come to your relief, with the same zeal with which we should have armed in our own defence, had we been attacked. Therefore, the Senate of Florence, judging it primarily necessary to relieve Verona and Brescia, and thinking this impossible without the count, have sent me, in the first instance, to persuade him to pass into Lombardy, and carry on the war wherever it may be most needful; for you are aware he is under no obligation to cross the Po. To induce him to do so, I have advanced such arguments as are suggested by the circumstances themselves, and which would prevail with us. He, being invincible in arms, cannot be surpassed in courtesy, and the liberality he sees the Florentines exercise toward you, he has resolved to outdo; for he is well aware to what dangers Tuscany will be exposed after his departure, and since we have made your affairs our primary consideration, he has also resolved to make his own subservient to yours. I come, therefore, to tender his services, with 7,000 cavalry and 2,000 infantry, ready at once to march against the enemy, wherever he may be. And I beg of you, so do my lords at Florence and the count, that as his forces exceed the number he has engaged to furnish, you, out of your liberality, would remunerate him, that he may not repent of having come to your assistance, nor we, that we have prevailed with him to do so."

This discourse of Neri to the Senate was listened to with that profound attention which the oracle might be imagined to command; and his audience were so moved by it, that they could not restrain themselves, till the prince had replied, as strict decorum upon such occasions required, but rising from their seats, with uplifted hands, and most of them with tears in their eyes, they thanked the Florentines for their generous conduct, and the ambassador for his unusual despatch; and promised that time should never cancel the remembrance of such goodness, eitber in their own hearts, or their children's; and that their country, thenceforth, should be common to the Florentines with themselves.